As a resource contact, I happily teach children of all ages about the benefits of local food. Through song, taste tests, lessons, and gardening, I hope to instill an appreciation for fresh, local foods that help our environment, our communities, and our farmers. Rarely, however, do I get to take students out of school to witness local food in action – until this week! High school ag teacher Jessica O’Connor wanted to take students on a field trip to a production greenhouse. A perfect destination was found: Rolling Hills in West Union, owned by Eric & Fern Unruh. After Rolling Hills, we decided to tour the Iowa Food Hub, where we get many of the local foods for our school lunch program. We would finish at Unionland Market, just down the street from the Food Hub. It’s a great retail store that sells many local products, from baked goods to dairy. Students would be able to see different parts of our local food system, from producer to distributor to retailer.
We set off for Rolling Hills this past Tuesday. I had no idea what to expect and neither did our students! We were greeted warmly by Fern, who sent students on a “scavenger” hunt of the greenhouse, discovering the methods Rolling Hills uses to water, heat, and run air through the space. Students had a blast poking around the gorgeous scenery! Then, it was snack time. Fern gave out samples of their lettuce mix. I have never seen students so eager to eat their greens. Many students did not even use ranch! It’s no small surprise, Fern and her family’s greens are delicious, not one bitter leaf!
After our tasty Rolling Hills experience, we headed to West Union to tour the Iowa Food Hub. Nick Mabe and Georgia Windhorst talked to students about the Food Hub, its mission, and its impact on our local food economy. Then, students were able to step into the cooler and freezer. A chilly but fun time!
Lastly, students headed to Unionland Market. After learning about the huge array of local products, students were allowed to purchase snacks to take home. Since one was shared with me, I can say the Amish baked goods were delicious!
Jessica O’Connor was delighted with the trip, she felt her students “got a lot out of the experience”. Besides a snack, students got to see a unique side of their local food system. Next time students see a Rolling Hills box of lettuce they will be more likely to buy it, because they know its local and know who grows it. How many high schoolers can say the same about their salad? Having a conversation with students about the benefits of local food is important. Showing those students how local food is grown, who grows it, and where it’s sold can have far greater impacts than any classroom lesson. And giving out samples doesn’t hurt either.